July 31, 1939

Freedom and Order, Selected Speeches 1939-1946pp. 27-33

I am happy that it falls to my lot to express the congratulations of all hon. Members to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) on his maiden speech. I am sure that is no mere empty and formal compliment. We all appreciate the modesty and sincerity with which the hon. Member spoke, and we all hope that in the months and years to come we shall have the privilege of hearing him often in our Debates.

This is the first Debate we have had on foreign affairs for a very considerable period, and I think no one in any part of the Commit-

tee has taken exception to the Debate taking place. I feel that it has been worth while if only to obtain from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the very direct and forthright statement of policy to which we listened. I think that the observations which he made, by their very frankness, particularly in connection with the Russian negotiations, cannot but do good. I shall have a few words to say about Russia in a moment, but I should like now to say that I do not think it was quite fair—and I do not think my right hon. Friend intended to do this—to blame hon. Members in connection with the Russian negotiations, for in truth the rumours that have appeared from day to day were not statements made by any of us, or even to us, but were made in various sections of the Press. However, I think that the terms which my right hon. Friend used with regard to the Russian negotiations and with regard to the Far East will render a definite service in an extremely delicate international situation.

We have been reminded of the delicacy of that situation. It is difficult, anxious and, in my judgment, menacing. There is no improvement and no relaxation of the tension; nor, I think, can any of us expect such a relaxation in the coming weeks. False optimism would be as unjustified to-day as anything in the nature of jitters, which is not existent among the British people. My right hon. Friend has appealed to us that we should not in these delicate conditions say anything to make the existing problems sharper still, and for my part, I need hardly say that I shall do my utmost to respond to that appeal. Indeed, in what I shall say, I shall seek only to put to my right hon. Friend and the Government certain concrete suggestions which in the present international situation have been brought to my mind. If the situation is—as we admit it is-—one of unrelieved gravity, that does not mean that there are not actions which the Government could perhaps take which would assist to better it. I will begin with an observation or two about the Far East.

What are the realities of the Far Eastern situation? Amid all the conflicting evidence and the conflicting claims, there is one reality which is surely abundantly plain to all of us, and that is that Japan has failed to conquer China. The end of that war is now even more remote than it was when the war began some two years ago. Indeed, since the fall, last October, of Hankow and Canton, Japan has made no progress, not even in the narrowest military sense of the term "progress". On the contrary, since those events last autumn from all the information which comes to us—I expect the Governent will be able to confirm this—the Chinese morale and power of organization have made a most remarkable recovery. In the territory which remains to them, they have not only reorganized their armies, but they are even reconstructing their industry. China has adjusted herself to new conditions in a manner which calls for a warm tribute of admiration from all of us. I cannot help feeling that there are many in Japan who thought in the early days that the war would be profitable and soon over, who must now be deeply regretting their error of judgment. Therefore, I repeat that in the Far Eastern situation the first reality is that Japan can never wholly conquer China.

The second reality is that Japan having failed to complete her military victory, is seeking for some other way to obtain the same or similar results, and in seeking for that way, she is now attempting to bring about the collapse of the Chinese currency. The aim of Japan is to secure the assistance or connivance of this country in that attempt. I was delighted to hear the categoric terms in which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with that situation this afternoon. There is very little doubt in my mind that the demand for the silver in Tientsin, which is held by our banks and the French banks in the Concession, and the demand that we should substitute the Japanese currency for the Chinese dollar in use in the Concession, are aimed at trying to weaken the Chinese currency and to obtain by that means the results which Japan has failed to achieve by military action. It is obvious that this country could have no lot or part in such an action. To modify our policy at the dictates of a foreign Power is exactly what my right hon. Friend said he was not prepared to do, and to agree to join in such a movement as that would be gravely injurious to our interests not only in China, but throughout the East, India, Malaya, and everywhere.

There is one question I should like to put to whoever is going to reply to the Debate for the Government. The Prime Minister has made it quite plain that we stand firm in our intention not to assist in any attempt to weaken the Chinese currency. I hope the Government will go a little farther than that and make it plain, perhaps when the Debate is wound up, that not only will we not connive in any attempt to weaken the Chinese currency, but we shall continue the policy on which we have hitherto been engaged of doing all we can to support the Chinese currency itself.

Something has been said about the negotiations which have been going on in Tokyo. I shall not attempt to examine the formula or discuss those negotiations in detail. Frankly, I do not think it particularly helpful to do so while they are taking place. In the end, that formula and any other negotiation will be judged by what has happened, and the first condition, it seems to me, of any improvement in relations between this country and Japan, is the cessation of the anti-British activities which are at present being stimulated by Japan in China. If Japan truly wants our friendship she cannot expect—no country can expect—to have it, while she is engaged in activities of that kind. So far, the conversations have not had that result. The blockade at Tientsin continues and apparently food supplies, even to Hong Kong, are being interfered with.

I am sure that when my right hon. Friend replies he will make it plain, as I think the Prime Minister made it plain just now, if I understood him aright, that any friendship with us depends on the cessation of those activities and a reversal of the present attitude of Japan. If that does not take place we in this country do not lack action that we can take. The United States have shown us what form that action might take. There are some of us who wish that the action which the United States has taken had been taken on our part when the Tientsin blockade began. That is a matter for argument but what is certain is that the Government will receive the support of every section of opinion in this country, if they find it necessary to speak in those plain terms to the Japanese Government.

I turn from that subject to say a word about Russia. I do so with some temerity, because I know of no subject which is more prickly and more productive of controversy in all quarters of the House. But we have not this afternoon to discuss whether we want an agreement with Russia or not. That has been decided some time ago. It is the Government's declared policy that they do wish for such an agreement. My right hon. Friend has reiterated that with considerable vehemence this afternoon and what I desire to concern myself with now is the question of machinery. Accepting the position that we do want this agreement with Russia, is there anything further we can do which will enable us to bring it about? It must be admitted that these negotiations have pursued a somewhat strange course. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend speak of the decision to send this military mission—military in the widest sense—to Moscow. I agree that it is an unusual proceeding. I agree also that it is calculated to help to remove mistrust and that is why I, for my part, most warmly welcome it. These negotiations with Russia are always being forecast either

in this country or in Paris as just about to finish but they never seem quite to reach their end. Indeed in this connection I am reminded of La Rochefoucauld's definition of love and ghosts—everybody is always talking about it but nobody has ever seen it. We hope despite that, that we very soon shall see it, in this case. For my part, I wish that two months ago the Government had made up their mind to send the most authoritative mission possible to Moscow and that they had put at the head of that mission some political personality who could negotiate directly with the remarkable man who is head of the Russian Government to-day in everything except name. If that mission could then have been accompanied by military, naval and air advisers so much the better, but where doubts and suspicions have to be allayed—and everybody knows that they exist—personal contact can be more effective than the exchange of diplomatic notes however skilfully drafted. There are times when an hour's talk may be worth a month of writing. I wish that step could have been taken.

I have long believed, as the Committee know, that there are no fundamental divergencies of interest between us and the Russian Government. I am speaking of exterior political circumstances and not at all of our internal politics with which we are not, as I see it, concerned in this connection. There is nowhere on the earth's surface any reason why those interests should conflict, but there is this long legacy of suspicion which, particularly in the case of Russians, is by no means easily removed. In conclusion, on this subject I would ask the Government, since they are now going to send a military mission to Moscow, if there are still political difficulties and if the Government still feel those difficulties to be formidable even now, that they should enlarge this military mission and make it a political mission as well. Why should we not arrange it so that not only will our generals talk to the Russian generals but that there will also be someone who can talk to M. Stalin and see if we cannot finish the whole thing in one week? I know that that is asking much, but I cannot help feeling that a direct approach to the men concerned is more likely to produce results than other methods. I know how difficult it is, but I would beg of the Government, at this time, that they should give consideration to that proposal.

May I say something now about the situation in Danzig? My right hon. Friend said he stood by the declaration which he made the other day. That declaration received the endorsement of everysection of this House, and, if I may say so, I thought it could not have been improved by one word or comma. The truth is that there is no Danzig issue in the narrow sense of the term. What does exist is an issue concerned with the future independence of Poland. Germans in Danzig to-day do not undergo any servitude, except that servitude which they care to impose upon themselves. The city is ruled by the Nazis; they have suppressed all other political parties and all other newspapers, they have expelled the Jews, and they do exactly as they like, as regards internal affairs.

As to the actual system which now exists I would like to say this. There have been many critics of the Versailles settlement in respect of Danzig. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have had, perhaps, rather more to do with the working of that system than anybody else. I have no particular reason to defend the Treaty of Versailles. I have been accused of many misdeeds but nobody has ever said that I drafted that Treaty. But I can say, and I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer will bear me out in this, that that system, though not ideal, is definitely workable, if there be the will to work it. We have to remember that at Versailles the Powers were faced by two conflicting demands which could not be wholly reconciled. Poland wished Danzig to be included in her territory and Germany wished to retain Danzig in her territory.

All through the centuries there has been this problem of Danzig's special position, and it seems to me that the solution which the Powers, when they made the Peace Treaty, sought to work out, was by no means unreasonable. It gave Danzig its own life and it gave Poland its own port. Let us not forget that without that port Poland's life could hardly be maintained. The Fourteen Points of President Wilson, which Germany herself is so fond of acclaiming, recognized Poland's right to a secure outlet to the sea. Therefore I say that there is no narrow Danzig issue. If you like there is the issue of the so-called Corridor. Dr. Goebbels has tried to link it up with Danzig but in point of fact the Corridor has always been Polish in population and if you were to deprive Poland of the Corridor and of the use of Danzig, then, I repeat, that country's life would be placed in jeopardy.

As we watch these manoeuvres is it possible to escape the conclusion that we are being confronted with exactly the same technique as that which was used last year? The object is exactly the same. Nobody can foretell precisely what the tactics will be in the next few weeks. No doubt there will be many moves. We shall be lulled and soothed, we shall be threatened and provoked, but in essence the Nazis' purpose remains the same—to impose upon Poland this year the fate which they imposed upon Czechoslovakia last year. To counter this, the Government have embarked upon their policy of the Peace-Front and are seeking to build up that front. It is useless to argue now whether that is the right line to take or not. The decision was taken last March after the German troops entered Prague and, for my part, I am convinced that no other policy stands a chance of averting war under present conditions. That has been confirmed by the Foreign Secretary in his recent speech and by my right hon. Friend to-day.

There cannot be any turning back and there will be no turning back. My right hon. Friend's speech made that clear. What then is the best contribution that we can make? I come back to the statement that the purpose of the Government's policy is not to win a war but to avert it. Therefore the best contribution that we can make is to complete this Peace-Front at the earliest possible moment. On that basis we shall be in a position to act, to speak, to negotiate with greater freedom. Once every would-be aggressor in Europe can be compelled to recognize that aggression cannot for the future pay, it may be that then, at last, we shall enter upon the long and difficult road to a lasting peace.